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Pharmacies SHOULD take some responsibility

This week, a group of pharmacy chains asked a federal judge in Cleveland to reject claims by some Ohio counties that they bear some responsibility for the opioid epidemic that swallowed parts of Ohio — including the Mid-Ohio Valley — over the course of several years. According to a filing from the likes of CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, HBC and Discount Drug Mart, it is the doctors and other healthcare providers– not them — who bear responsibility for flooding our region with more pills than any reasonable person would believe medically necessary.

Pharmacies make money on prescriptions. The more they sell, the more they make. Data is not easy to come by; and even the National Community Pharmacy Association has decided it is no longer a good idea to publish just how MUCH money their member pharmacies make. But an estimate by the website drugchannels.net says independent pharmacies’ profit margin on prescriptions was approximately 21.2% in 2016.

The lawsuit alleges pharmacies contributed to the substance abuse crisis by filling prescriptions for an “excessive volume” of opioids. (A well-publicized example from across the river is the case of the Sav-Rite Pharmacy in Kermit, W.Va., to which one pharmaceutical distributor shipped 184,000 hydrocodone pills A MONTH in 2006 and 2007. Kermit’s population at the time was less than 400.)

One can understand why a pharmacist working for one of these larger chains might be hesitant to do anything that affected the bottom line, particularly if no guidance had been given from corporate officials as to how to alert law enforcement about suspicious prescriptions. But there can be little doubt the pharmacists understood something was amiss.

“While pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals, they did not attend medical school and are not trained as physicians,” the big chains claim.

Anyone — ANYONE — would have looked at the volume of addictive pills being prescribed and understood there was cause for alarm. It is insulting to pretend professional pharmacists did not see what was happening. And, if they did not raise a red flag to give law enforcement a chance to nip the problem in the bud, they are, indeed, partly to blame for the monster that we continue to face.

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